A Halloween Story

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Rough hands grab my skin, tearing it from my body. I groan as it is ripped away. As calluses abrade each new strip, I shudder, trying to hold myself together. There is life inside me. I must not give in to the pain, the pain, the pain. All is pain.

One nail is slowly pried off and I cry, loud, noisy, no pride left, please, no! Inside me, my heart flinches as I vibrate from the grasping hands flaying me, yanking my nails away, and all I can think of is the life I keep safe within despite the pain. All is pain. Everything, everywhere, is pain.

The night is cold, so cold. Skinned as I am, the cold penetrates me. I am weakened, vulnerable. Within me, the life I strain to protect shivers and dreams of peace, of a time without the cold and the pain, but all that is not cold is pain. There is nothing anywhere but cold, and pain.
Pounding shakes me as pieces of new skin are forced onto me, nailed into place. With each blow, I tremble. My skeleton shakes as each nail is forced into me, but I stand.

At last, new hands spread cool, soothing salve over my bruised body. My new skin is not yet so comfortable as it will be, but the pain gives way and I settle, wearily. From within, the life I guard creeps out to examine every inch of my new, wet skin.

The four-legged lives sniff me. One lifts his leg but I understand he is telling the world that I am his own.

“They did a good job,” one of the two-legged ones says.

“For that amount of money, they should,” says another.

“Still,” muses the first, “should last for years.” He pats me, gently, as if he were the one who was big and I the one who was small. “The house is good and solid again. I’m glad we got the new siding on and painted before it rains.”

That is the moment I understand. I have not been tortured. I have been reborn.

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The Biggest Little Thing I’ve Done So Far

I think 2020 is called that because by September, this year has seemed 2,020 months long. It’s so easy to lose hope. I don’t spend a lot of time on social media, especially since I’m still recuperating after Covid19 and there’s only so much energy, but it seems every time I do go on Facebook or Twitter, there’s someone fighting sadness, anxiety and/or depression who asks for some sign that things can get better.

When I feel that way, I think about 2016-2017. It seemed like a parade of the most hateful people in the world were just partying in the streets. Meanwhile friends who are gay, or non-binary, or non-white, or otherwise in some way didn’t fit what those jerks thought was “acceptable” were being trolled by morons saying that they should die. People were being harassed, injured, killed.

I’d heard about Safe Harbor Pins, safety pins worn to signal that the wearer was safe to approach, especially if you felt threatened and needed someone, even a stranger, to help you feel, or be, safe. There was some controversy — some thought that too many people would congratulate themselves on wearing the pin and not do anything else.

Symbols are powerful things. When you adopt one as part of your identity, you are making a statement about where you stand and what you believe. But then there were reports of white supremacists hijacking the symbol, wearing safety pins as a threat, or to fool others. Artists talked about how to take that symbol back.

So I started making them, and beading them. Adding charms, buttons, all sorts of things. I didn’t think people would really want them, but I went to a local women’s march with a few pins, thinking it would take me hours to give them away, if I even could.

I’m an introvert, and shy, so talking to strangers is not my thing in a big way, but I did approach some people. I’d put single pins on little cards explaining what they were. Withing 15 minutes, I’d given them all away, and people were asking how to make them.

I felt the need to stand and make a statement, and others did, too. One young woman gave me the idea to put two pins on a card, one to keep, one to give away. I took time off from everything else I was doing and, with the help of my husband, made over 2,000 pins in total by the end of the project. I got hand cramps, calluses, and more pin pricks that I can count.

We visited San Francisco during the anniversary of the Summer of Love. We visited Los Angeles. We talked to people from around the world and around the U.S., including people from every political party. We talked to people from many economic backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems. This was designed not to be a political project. Over 1,000 people were stopped by a stranger and asked if they would like a pin. The meaning of the pin was explained, and that wearing it was a symbol that you believed all people — including those you don’t understand, those you disagree with, even those you dislike — deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

And they did. In overwhelming numbers. Parents talked to their children about respect and how they treat people. Teens talked about why they give respect to some people but not others. Adults talked about their fears for friends, family.

We were hugged fairly often. Kissed once by a tourist from Paris. Offered money (which we declined. A gift is a gift). Some people cried. Too often, we heard from people who had been going through rough experiences, being bullied, hurt and otherwise abused. People told us who their second pin was going to. We were privileged to be included in conversations people had with their kids, friends, significant others about how they choose who to be kind to and why – and that it is a choice.

Now, with so much violence and anger, the threat of a global pandemic and a future that looks even more uncertain than usual, I think about more than 1,000 people, stopped by a stranger, standing up in front of other strangers, talking about freedom, kindness, and the worth of human life, and making a conscious choice to state their belief in the value of every human being.

They walked away taller, beacons of light in the darkness. And they are still out there. THAT is what I reflect on when the world is chaotic and frightening. Over 1,000 people, and the even larger number who contributed to them being who they are.

If you see this and you happen to be one of them. Thank you. You light my way in my dark hours.

Should you want to read short stories from the project, just search for #lovebeads to find stories from our adventures.

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Restarting Your Year Without Waiting For New Year’s Eve

Is it time to bring a bit of balance into your life?

There are a lot of traditions for starting your new year right, from eating black eyed peas and mustard greens, or round foods (symbolizing money) to burning sage. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait until December 31 for 2020 to get a makeover. Had I known what this year would be like, I’d have had the calendar printed on toilet paper and made a fortune.

I’m not normally superstitious, but I do believe that intention and attention can produce change. For one thing, focus can guide our choices and actions. Plus, there’s “the phenomenon of the observer,” where the presence of a person engaged and aware can produce minute changes in an experiment — nothing enormous, but it shows that even putting your attention on something is an action.

Rituals exist in part because they arise out of, and enhance, focus, and they’re reassuring. I’m a POF (Person Of Faith), but even if you don’t consider yourself religious, you can have your own rituals to bring about the conditions you want in your life by aiming yourself in that direction.

So on Sept. 22, I’m going to practice some rituals designed to bring health, peace and prosperity. I’ll meditate and take a “peace break.” I’ll also:

  • Eat black eyed peas and mustard greens, and round foods (like carrot slices and a cookie). These are all eaten to attract prosperity. The peas, carrots, and cookie represent coins, and the mustard greens (or other leafy greens) represent “folding money.” The black eyed peas and greens is a tradition from the American south, the “round food” from several countries. Maybe this is my chance to have a donut.
  • Sweep doorways and around windows, and the path to our door. This is so that good luck can find us.
  • Eat a marzipan pig (Austria). We’re going to get really full — but I love marzipan, so this isn’t a harship. Maybe the carrots, peas and mustard greens will offset the marzipan and the rest?
  • Eat 12 grapes at midnight (Spain), one for each hour on the clock, as well as rice (India & Pakistan) and apples dipped in honey (a Jewish tradition).
  • Make noise (multiple countries). I plan to ring bells and blow horns, but favored new start noisemakers include the drums. This is to frighten off evil.
  • Give a gift (Mark, you’re getting some shortbread — that’s a Scottish tradition).
  • I don’t have any borrowed farm equipment to return (a Babylonian tradition) or earthenware flasks to give (ancient Egypt), but I can wear colored underwear (parts of South America). I’m opting for green (wealth) and white (peace).
  • At least part of the day, I’ll open a window (Phillipines).
  • Sprinkling sugar (Puerto Rico) outside the house is to invite good in. I’d better do that far from the house, or I’ll also be inviting in the ants!
  • As I eat those 12 grapes at midnight, I’ll also sprinkle salt in doorways (Turkey) — thanks to author Marci Bolden for telling me about the salt tradition.
  • After writing down my good wishes for everyone I care about, I’ll burn them (many traditions burn things to send them upward and out into the universe). You, reading this now, know that on September 22, I will be actively wishing you well.
  • Finally, I’m going to bake bread with good wishes in it (Armenia). While the bread is kneaded, I’ll be thinking of those I love and wishing them well (and praying for them, ’cause, y’know, POF).

That should do it! The traditions I don’t get to (and there are more, for sure) I can try on New Year’s Eve. But this year can’t wait for a new start, so I’m throwing whatever I can at 2020. I mean, zombie bugs, a global pandemic, quakes, fire tornadoes and murder hornets? Come on! As far as I’m concerned, 2020 ends on September 22, and the rest of the year is just 2020, the Epilogue.

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Likes (The Idea Of) Walking In The Rain

Dear Strange Dude:
Thanks, but…

Dear Guy From The Computer Dating Service Who Keeps Messaging Me:

You seem like a nice guy. It even says in your profile that you’re “mature,” which is not a claim many people can honestly make, so mad props to you. Yes, I’m sure we like a lot of the same things, although I have to tell you I don’t really like walking in the rain. I like rain, and the idea of walking in it, but as with many things, the reality differs from the fantasy in important ways.

Fantasy: walking in a light, steady rain, more of a heavy mist, that turns my skin dewy and glowing. Reality: squelching along, my hair plastered to my scalp by drops that splat on me like water balloons, in shoes that will, as soon as they get warm, smell funky.

What I really like is sitting at a table under an awning or on a covered porch, sipping hot tea and reading, alone or with someone who doesn’t interrupt, because he’s reading his own book. I’ve left “splashing in puddles” territory and “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” isn’t far enough away to leave room for romance on slippery surfaces.

Which reminds me, no to the making love on satin sheets.

No to all of it, really. I never did sign up for that online dating service. I took what was advertised as a fun personality test about romance. I’ve been married since before the invention of dirt, and was wondering if there were any romantic notions left in my aging and more than somewhat befuddled brain.

Turns out the answer is “no,” at least as defined by an online dating service. Fancy dinners mean taking more trouble than I care to in order to get dressed, and sitting on uncomfortable furniture. I’d rather slide into a comfy booth at a diner where the waitress calls me “hon” and serves me a good burger, well done. Candlelight means squinting or rooting around in my purse for my glasses.

I suspect that people who serve food in the dark are hiding something. Not that the lighting has to be “interrogation scene in a film noir,” but I do like enough lighting to read the menu and see the person I’m eating with. You only have to have the lights come up and find yourself murmuring fondly into the ear of a total stranger once to learn your lesson.

Fortunately for you, I’m already married, so you don’t have to deal with me. Fortunately for me, I’m married to someone who dislikes dark restaurants and walking in the rain, and does like me.

So you have to stop messaging me. I hope you find someone who likes walking in the rain, candlelit restaurants, and satin sheets as much as you do, although it seems likely you’ll see more of the staff of the hospital ER than each other. Which might work out, come to think of it. You need someone who knows her way around bandages.

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Back In The Saddle Again (Well, in, then out, then in…)

So I haven’t been keeping up on our website until just recently. My new hashtag is #IBlameCovid. It’s been 5 months since I was first diagnosed. Here we are in July (almost August) and I’m definitely improved (I know March happened, but don’t ask me about it), but not completely over it yet.

The main lingering symptom is exhaustion. In March, I found myself having to sit on the floor of my shower because I couldn’t stand up long enough to rinse the shampoo from my hair. Now? I can shower, then I have to lie down for an hour. So improvement, yes, but not back to normal.

That’s a common misunderstanding about #Covid19. People think you have it and you die, or you get better, end of report. Not really. For many people, even a mild to moderate case (like mine), where you didn’t have to be hospitalized, produces lingering and often debilitating symptoms that can come and go unpredictably.

Thinking is physical work and it tires me out. Laugh if you want to, it’s true. Sometimes I hunt for common words or to labor to finish a thought. It gets better, then returns. I’m just glad my brain came back at all. For quite a while, I struggled to follow a thought from one end to the other, and conversation left me with crushing fatigue.

I’m writing and editing again, and my brain seems to function, until I get tired, so my working hours are brief and interrupted by rest breaks while I lie down, but at least I can work a bit. I just have to accept that an hour of writing will be followed by an hour (or more) of lying down. It’s frustrating, and I was wrestling with guilt and frustration, but I remembered the lesson a dear friend taught me.

Merlin was my service dog. He had been a starving stray puppy, but he still approached every morning cheerfully, making the most of whatever life offered him that day. We call it The Lesson Of Merlin. He taught me that it doesn’t matter what you planned, or what you feel your situation “should” be. What matters is meeting life where it is and doing what you can with what you have to work with.

Merlin, who tried to teach me all he could.

Which isn’t to say I’ve magically become a yogi and avatar of enlightenment. I have to remind myself every day, sometimes multiple times a day, to look at what I have available that day and make the most of it. If it’s a bad post-Covid day, that may mean lying on the couch all day, watching Shakespearean comedies, history programs and writing classes on tv. If it’s a good day, it’s a bit of housecleaning, writing, playing with my pups, talking with Mark. My challenge is to find joy in whatever I have.

The lesson of Merlin.

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